The European Commission cuts roaming charges. But “it’s not enough”…

Press conference by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the EC, on the huge cuts in mobile data roaming price caps from 01/07/2014 (EC Audiovisual Services)

Press conference by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the EC, on the huge cuts in mobile data roaming price caps from 01/07/2014 (EC Audiovisual Services)

With an official communication the European Union has finally announced it: starting from yesterday, 1st of July, using our mobile overseas will be cheaper. The press release stated with an unusually lively spirit, full of exclamation marks and fresh words, that the EU has finally cut the price caps for data downloads by more than half: down from 45 cents to 20 cents per megabyte.

“It will become even cheaper to use maps, watch videos, check mails and update social networks while travelling across the EU”, the press release declared. “To put it into context: football fans traveling in the EU during this World Cup season will pay 25 times less for data roaming as compared to during 2010 World Cup!” it added. New rules mean that from next week no one can be charged more than 18.9 eurocents a minute to make a call; receiving a call will cost no more than 4.9 cents a minute; sending a text won’t cost more than 6 cents and downloading data won’t cost more than 20 cents a megabyte.

On top of that, the EU announced that, from 1 July 2014, mobile operators in Europe can offer consumers a specific roaming deal before they travel and, where available, allow them to choose a local one “for data services such as emailing, reading the news online, uploading photos and watching videos online, in the country they are visiting”.

The news is very positive; no doubt about that. Nobody could say that this is not a good step towards the consumers’ needs. Also, this proves that the nearly decade-long battle given by the European Commission to reduce the amount that individuals pay for their mobile phone contracts is going in the right way. Like we said, the recent cuts were substantial, with roaming rates dropping by 55 percent, and between 80 and 90 percent compared to 2007.

Impressive as this is, some doubts still remain though. Are the price cuts really going to have a deep impact for the consumers? Some analysts argued the reductions would not be felt in many parts of Europe because most people still ignore the actual rates, and therefore don’t use roaming when traveling for fear of heavy charges. Technology research firm Gartner, through the voice of one of its main analysts, Jessica Ekholm, revealed that most of the consumers will not use roaming services while abroad in any case, because it is something that is considered to be expensive “by nature”. “The new ruling won’t have a massive impact on the market,” said Ekholm, as reported by the New York Times recently; “people still haven’t got used to using roaming abroad”.

We believe this is the result of unreasonable prices policies on roaming in the EU for many years, with the consumers being trapped for being in a bloc with the same currency but an absolutely fragmented situation when it comes to text messages or phone calls or data roaming. We are pretty sure that almost everybody felt the same frustration in the past years while using the mobile phone overseas. So this is something that requires some radical changes to be washed away.

“This huge drop in data roaming prices will make a big difference to all of us this summer” said European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes responsible for the group’s Digital Agenda. “But it is not enough.” she added. And we think she is right. “Why should we have roaming charges at all in a single market? By the end of this year I hope we see the complete end of roaming charges agreed – the Parliament has done their part, now it is up to Member States to seal the deal”. Kroes openly refers to the Commission’s plan (and promise) to eliminate roaming charges altogether by the end of 2015, if member states give final approval to measures already backed by the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Many say that the question is still open. The European telecom industry, for example, is still far from being happy. An alliance of the largest operators warned last year that abolishing roaming could cost the industry €7bn in cash flow before 2020. “Operators will not lose out on profits, while consumers will see no increase in prices elsewhere” Neelie Kroes replied, but the fight doesn’t seem to be over.

What is certain though is that the new regulations help European consumers get one step closer towards a more meaningful unity in all aspects of life and particularly consumption. Trying to convince people that there are no longer borders or barriers between countries, and then make them pay extra fees just to be a few kilometers far from their homeland is something that truly doesn’t make sense.

That’s why these reforms are part of a wider plan to ‘build the Europeans’, and not only Europe, by providing them with better conditions in their everyday life across the continent. And by supporting the vision for3 a much more complete and mature unity.

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Comments

  1. Very good article. I’m experiencing some of these issues as well..

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